Following the recent unveiling of DEATHLOOP Arkane Lyon, I felt that a return to Dishonored was on the cards. A few things struck me, but foremost was just how well the prison break that opens the game proper lays out some aspects of the playstyles on offer, and alerts you to the type of world you will encounter outside the walls of Coldridge Prison.
Upon waking in the cell, what struck me first is how up front the game is that there is one route to escape. You pick up a message and a key hidden with your meagre prison rations, and your journey begins along a linear route through the prison to reach the explosive with which you will use to blow the bloody doors off.
The linear route is interesting here, many missions later in the game offer multiple routes to meeting your objective, albeit perhaps not to the same extent as the best levels found in the sequel. But the linear approach does the job for introducing you to the playstyles that define the Dishonored series. Namely your choice between going full on with the high chaos approach by blazing forth with your sword and pistol, or forgoing those weapons entirely to indulge in the slower paced low chaos approach.
On revisiting the prison break, both approaches are rewarding in their own way. The cut and thrust of fighting the guards, with the execution animations when you kill a guard with your sword particularly satisfying. But deciding to forgo weapons entirely is a wonder in its own right. It adds a new dynamic to your approach, knowing that you can’t fall back on your weapons if this get out of hand. I made a slight mistake on my no weapons playthrough, and did resort to a small bit of save scumming when pushing into the last section of the prison which makes me wonder what an Ironman mode would be like if you self-imposed a no weapons rule.
Of course, the prison break doesn’t feature any of the supernatural powers that make the rest of the game so endearing, but there is an early hint of the verticality that becomes so useful with the blink ability. Mantling some ledges to get around a locked door is an inconsequential moment, but one that immediately plants the idea in your mind that there is more than one way to get past a locked door.
What is noticeable in the prison is how dull the AI is, especially no normal difficulty. Taking out the three guards at the start silently is easy enough, but when they don’t react to their missing colleagues, you realise that some of the AI routines left something to be desired.
Away from the action itself, I love how the art of the prison conflicts with the bright and joyful opening where you can play hide and seek with Emily Kaldwin. In those brief moments, you have no sense that Dunwall will fall into such a dark place, but the prison gives you hints.
Aside from the torture chamber, your fellow prisoners foretell the type of city you’ll soon be exploring. Posters hint advertise The Hound Pits, your future base of operations while busts and banners indicate the oppressive regime that the Lord Regent has imposed. “Order Shall Prevail” appears several times around the jail, an order which you will ultimately lead to chaos, whether it’s high or low.
Your journey to escape Coldridge Prison isn’t groundbreaking, and is certainly over way too quickly. But it sets you on the right path for the rest of the series, and however excited I am for DEATHLOOP, I will forever yearn for more Dishonored adventures.